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DOD officials: Benefits for gay troops will be examined

DOMA restricts most benefits from going to gay troops with partners

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Marine Maj. Gen. Steven Hummer and Virginia "Vee" Penrod, co-chairs of the Repeal Implementation Team (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Possible benefits that could be afforded to service members with same-sex partners will be the “the largest piece” of what the Pentagon intends to examine in the 60 days before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is off the books, according to DOD officials.

Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Steven Hummer, chief of staff of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Repeal Implementation Team, identified benefits Friday as among the policies “important to the department and service members” and said they’ll be examined before and after the military’s gay ban has been lifted.

“The department will continue to study existing benefits to determine those, if any, that should be reviewed based on policy, fiscal, legal and feasibility considerations, to give the service member the discretion to designate persons of their own choosing as beneficiaries,” Hummer said.

Hummer made the remarks during a news conference at the Pentagon intended to answer questions about the path forward for the military now that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal has been certified. The president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certified repeal Friday in accordance with the repeal law, which means the military’s gay ban will be off the books on Sept. 20.

Even with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” off the books, gay service members with partners or spouses faced inequities thanks to straight service members in marriages on issues such as living expenses and medical care, travel, housing benefits. Much of this inequity is because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Asked by the Washington Blade whether the Repeal Implementation Team identified any partner benefits that could go to gay service members despite DOMA, Virginia “Vee” Penrod, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy and co-chair of the Repeal Implementation Team, said the group determined to hold off on those determinations until after repeal takes effect.

“When we looked at the plan for implementation of the law, our priority was to develop the training and ensure that the force is trained,” Penrod said. “And looking at that priority, we realized the benefits, although very important — that we would wait until repeal before we decided to look in the benefits; which we will do upon repeal.”

Pressed by the New York Times for an example of a benefit that may be afforded to service members despite DOMA, Penrod said legal counsel may be among them.

“We have, like, legal policy for — where an individual could come in and would request legal assistance,” Penrod said. “And whether or not is that just for the service member or can I bring in my partner and also have assistance, and so that’s an example. There are just some that are not by law, but it’s by policy.”

Another reporter continued to ask whether the difference in benefits for gay and straight service members “may cause friction” in the armed forces that could disrupt unit cohesion.

Hummer maintained the Pentagon “will continue to follow the law” as mandated by DOMA and leaders are responsible for maintaining good order and discipline “irrespective of sexual orientation.”

In addition to maintaing that an examination of benefits is in the works, Pentagon officials disputed the notion that an executive order would be necessary to provide non-discrimination protections for gay service members. While “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is on its way to being lifted, no new statute has been put in its place to protect gay troops from discrimination.

Some advocates have been calling for an executive order from President Obama that would prohibit discrimination against service members on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Obama administration hasn’t explicitly said whether or not it would issue such a directive, but Pentagon officials have maintained the current military code within the chain of command is sufficient.

Asked whether an executive order would be needed to address discrimination, Hummer replied, “I believe it does not.”

“All service members, irrespective of their sexual orientation, are entitled to an environment that is free of any bars that would prohibit their full growth to as high a responsibility as they could reach,” Hummer said.

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The White House

White House: Fla. ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law is ‘discrimination, plain and simple’

Statute took effect on Friday

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre released a statement Friday as Florida’s notorious ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law took effect, saying “[…] state officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves.”

President Joe Biden also tweeted about the law prior to leaving for Camp David to spend the July 4 holiday weekend, calling the law “the latest attempt by Republicans in state houses to target LGBTQI+ students, teachers and families.”

In her statement, Jean-Pierre said:

“Today, some of Florida’s most vulnerable students and families are more fearful and less free. As the state’s shameful ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law takes effect, state officials who claim to champion liberty are limiting the freedom of their fellow Americans simply to be themselves.

“Already, there have been reports that ‘Safe Space’ stickers are being taken down from classrooms. Teachers are being instructed not to wear rainbow clothing. LGBTQI+ teachers are being told to take down family photos of their husbands and wives — cherished family photos like the ones on my own desk.

“This is not an issue of ‘parents’ rights.’ This is discrimination, plain and simple. It’s part of a disturbing and dangerous nationwide trend of right-wing politicians cynically targeting LGBTQI+ students, educators, and individuals to score political points.

“It encourages bullying and threatens students’ mental health, physical safety, and well-being. It censors dedicated teachers and educators who want to do the right thing and support their students. And it must stop.

“President Biden has been very clear that every student deserves to feel safe and welcome in the classroom.

“The Department of Education will be monitoring this law, and any student or parent who believes they are experiencing discrimination is encouraged to file a complaint with the department’s Office for Civil Rights.

“Our administration will continue to fight for dignity and opportunity for every student and family — in Florida and around the country.”

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The White House

Megan Rapinoe among 17 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients

White House ceremony to take place July 7

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Megan Rapinoe (Screen capture via U.S. Soccer YouTube)

The White House on Friday released President Joe Biden’s selection of recipients for bestowing the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The awards will be presented at the White House on July 7.

Included among the seventeen honorees are Megan Rapinoe, the out Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup champion. She also captains OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League. She is a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice and LGBTQ rights.

Also selected by the president for a posthumous recognition was Richard Trumka, the powerful labor leader and longtime Democratic ally of the LGBTQ community who passed away last August. Trumka had led the AFL-CIO since 2009 and who throughout his career, was an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ Americans, social and economic justice.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the U.S., world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors.

Presidential Medal of Freedom (The White House)

The following individuals will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

Simone Biles
Simone Biles is the most decorated American gymnast in history, with a combined total of 32 Olympic and World Championship medals. Biles is also a prominent advocate for athletes’ mental health and safety, children in the foster care system and victims of sexual assault.

Sister Simone Campbell
Sister Simone Campbell is a member of the Sisters of Social Service and former Executive Director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice organization. She is also a prominent advocate for economic justice, immigration reform and healthcare policy.

Julieta García
Dr. Julieta García is the former president of The University of Texas at Brownsville, where she was named one of Time magazine’s best college presidents. Dr. García was the first Hispanic woman to serve as a college president and dedicated her career to serving students from the Southwest Border region.

Gabrielle Giffords
Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona state Senate, serving first in the Arizona legislature and later in Congress. A survivor of gun violence, she co-founded Giffords, a nonprofit organization dedicated to gun violence prevention.

Fred Gray
Fred Gray was one of the first black members of the Alabama State legislature since Reconstruction. As an attorney, he represented Rosa Parks, the NAACP and Martin Luther King, who called him “the chief counsel for the protest movement.”

Steve Jobs (posthumous)
Steve Jobs (d. 2011) was the co-founder, chief executive and chair of Apple, Inc., CEO of Pixar and held a leading role at the Walt Disney Company. His vision, imagination and creativity led to inventions that have, and continue to, change the way the world communicates, as well as transforming the computer, music, film and wireless industries.

Father Alexander Karloutsos
Father Alexander Karloutsos is the former Vicar General of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. After over 50 years as a priest, providing counsel to several U.S. presidents, he was named by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as a protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Khizr Khan
Khizr Khan is a Gold Star father and founder of the Constitution Literacy and National Unity Center. He is a prominent advocate for the rule of law and religious freedom and served on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom under President Biden.

Sandra Lindsay
Sandra Lindsay is a New York critical care nurse who served on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response. She was the first American to receive a COVID-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials and is a prominent advocate for vaccines and mental health for health care workers.

John McCain (posthumous)
John McCain (d. 2018) was a public servant who was awarded a Purple Heart with one gold star for his service in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. He also served the people of Arizona for decades in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and was the Republican nominee for president in 2008.

Diane Nash
Diane Nash is a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who organized some of the most important civil rights campaigns of the 20th century. Nash worked closely with Martin Luther King, who described her as the “driving spirit in the nonviolent assault on segregation at lunch counters.”

Megan Rapinoe
Megan Rapinoe is an Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup champion. She also captains OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League. She is a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice and LGBTQI+ rights.

Alan Simpson
Alan Simpson served as a U.S. senator from Wyoming for 18 years. During his public service, he has been a prominent advocate on issues including campaign finance reform, responsible governance and marriage equality.

Richard Trumka (posthumous)
Richard Trumka (d. 2021) was president of the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO for more than a decade, president of the United Mine Workers, and secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. Throughout his career, he was an outspoken advocate for social and economic justice.

Wilma Vaught
Brigadier General Wilma Vaught is one of the most decorated women in the history of the U.S. military, repeatedly breaking gender barriers as she rose through the ranks. When she retired in 1985, she was one of only seven women generals in the Armed Forces.

Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington is an actor, director, and producer who has won two Academy Awards, a Tony Award, two Golden Globes, and the 2016 Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also served as National Spokesman for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America for over 25 years.

Raúl Yzaguirre
Raúl Yzaguirre is a civil rights advocate who served as CEO and president of National Council of La Raza for thirty years. He also served as U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic under President Barack Obama.

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The White House

U.S. orders 2.5 million more monkeypox vaccine doses

CDC has reported roughly 350 cases

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(Photo courtesy of Los Angeles County)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that it has ordered an additional 2.5 million doses of Bavarian Nordic’s JYNNEOS, an FDA-licensed vaccine indicated for prevention of smallpox and monkeypox, for use in responding to current or future monkeypox outbreaks and as part of U.S. smallpox preparedness.

Deliveries from this latest order of the Bavarian Nordic‘s Jynneos vaccine will begin arriving at the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) later this year and will continue through early 2023 HHS said in a statement.

“We are working around-the-clock with public health officials in states and large metro areas to provide them with vaccines and treatments to respond to the current monkeypox outbreak,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “This order of additional JYNNEOS vaccine will help us push out more vaccine quickly, knowing that we have more doses on the way in the coming months — and is only possible because of our longstanding investment in smallpox and monkeypox preparedness.”

The order announced today is in addition to the 500,000 doses of government-owned vaccine the company is producing in 2022 for use in the current response to monkeypox in the U.S and brings the total vaccine doses to be delivered in 2022 and 2023 to more than 4 million.

The company will produce these doses in liquid frozen form using vaccine already manufactured in bulk under an existing 10-year contract with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, within the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response; that contract was part of ongoing national preparedness efforts against smallpox.

“The medical countermeasures available to help respond to the current outbreak are the result of years of investment and planning made possible through the ongoing work between HHS and private industry,” said Gary Disbrow, director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. “We are pleased that we have been able to work with our partners at Bavarian Nordic to accelerate delivery of vaccines that can help keep people safe and stem the spread of the virus.”

BARDA supported the development of JYNNEOS, which is approved by the FDA to prevent smallpox and monkeypox. The U.S. government owns enough smallpox vaccine — JYNNEOS and ACAM2000 — to vaccinate millions of Americans, if needed.

As of June 24, ASPR’s SNS held approximately 65,000 doses of JYNNEOS in immediate inventory with delivery of an additional 300,000 doses in the coming days. On June 28, HHS announced that it would immediately make available 56,000 doses and soon after would make available 240,000 additional doses. The SNS also has more than 100 million doses of ACAM2000 which was developed with SNS support and is approved by FDA for use in preventing smallpox. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently has an expanded access Investigational New Drug protocol which allows use of ACAM2000 for monkeypox.

In addition, the SNS has over 1.7 million treatment courses of the smallpox antiviral drug TPOXX, which was developed with BARDA support and can be used to treat individuals with monkeypox under an appropriate regulatory mechanism. CDC currently has an expanded access Investigational New Drug protocol which allows its use for monkeypox.

As of June 29, the CDC has received reports of approximately 350 cases of monkeypox in the U.S., primarily among men who have sex with men.

To learn more about monkeypox, visit cdc.gov/monkeypox.

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